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When activist Natasha Dillon realized a year ago that New York did not have any kind of mentoring program for the city’s queer youth, she decided to do something about. Tonight, LGBT youth and mentors will meet each other at the first meeting of Guiding Proud, the organization which has paired them up in a kind of queer version of Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
Why did you think it was important to have an LGBT specific mentoring program?
For many reasons. I don’t think it’s any secret that we are a minority and our youth (and adults) get treated differently. In certain cases, it may not matter for a mentor-mentee relationship, but there is something to be said about a mentor understanding and appreciating the struggles and questions a young person will have. The questions may be small, but these can be large barriers for youth -and a mentor having their own reference to provide experience and guidance can be the difference between a kid having a supportive experience that honors their self-esteem and not.
The name “Guiding Proud” – are you concerned it will be confused with GOProud?
Haha, no. There are many words that being with “G” – and while I’m sure people won’t focus on the meaning behind naming the organizing “Guiding Proud” -as in giving guidance and being proud of who you are – I have to admit, now I’m a little concerned. (Disclaimer: In no way connected to anything GOP, not that there isn’t anything to be proud of with that.)
Why didn’t you just fold this mission into one of the other groups you’re a part of, like Queer Rising?
Mainly because it is a completely different mission. Queer Rising is an activist organization that deals with politics and demanding our rights as a whole community. Guiding Proud is more about foster individuals and providing support that is sometimes missing from a young queer person’s life.
How is Guiding Proud connecting with the young people it will mentor?
Guiding Proud has been beyond fortunate with the amount of support and assistance we have received. Urban Assembly, which is a group of schools in New York City, has partnered with us. The guidance counselors within the schools are recruiting the students for the program. And this Thursday, all the mentors will be matched and meet them. The format for this group is that all mentors and mentees matches will meet all together every other week. We will be doing different activities every session. Some LGBT focused, but most of them not.
How do you envision the mentors working with the people they are advising?
I think each match will be different and I imagine it will all sort of form organically. However, I imagine for the youth -just having someone to look to as a real life reference that life will in fact, get better -will be beneficial in itself. I love the video campaign, but I know from my teenage years, seeing a famous person on YouTube telling me that it gets better -would be too out of reach for me to relate to. Having someone take time to spend with me and be there for me through a confusing and scary time -that’s what did it for me.
Did you personally ever have an LGBT mentor of some kind?
No, not a designated one, but my uncle, who is gay, was truly a godsend for me. Even from afar, just knowing that he had come out and everything was okay. I knew I could to. Being a teenager is hard, having this secret that I envisioned was insurmountable -I needed someone to help me make it right-sized. I think every youth deserves that, at the very least.
What piece of advice, if any, did you not receive as a young queer person that you wish you had?
I don’t know so much if there was a piece of advice, I think overall our society needs to become less tolerant of terms like “that’s so gay” or “faggot.” As well as including diversity into media and advertising. Everything is connected and has counter effects. Even if it’s subconscious, these things can make a queer kid feel different and not apart of society. And you know, the general hate that is spewed by so many people -that could stop, too.
Much of the gay rights movement in town has had a bit of a well deserved break this summer, after same-sex marriages began. Is it just a coincidence that your first event is happening at the same time as the Gay Center’s big marriage debrief event?
Absolutely, there’s no relation whatsoever. This event is simply scheduled on the same day as the first meeting between the mentors and mentees – which was set by the school and Guiding Proud over the summer. So little days, so many queer events. All hands on deck to create a healthy and equal environment for our entire community!
After they meet with with the young people they will be mentoring, Guiding Proud’s adult mentors are having a fundraising party tonight at the Stonewall Inn hosted by Marty Gould Cummings.